There is good reason for the Supreme Court of India to ask the police to be proactive in dealing with hate speech by taking immediate legal action without waiting for a formal complaint. The Court has also warned of contempt action if the police showed any hesitation in compliance. Directed at the police in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, the order is in response to the “unending flow of hate speeches” highlighted in a writ petition before it. The Court has referred to the growing “climate of hate”, and taken note of the inaction in most instances, despite the law containing provisions to deal with the phenomenon. It is quite apparent that the governments at the Centre and in some like-minded States do not share the Court’s concern for communal harmony, fraternity and tranquillity; in fact, some of them may be contributing to the vitiated atmosphere either by studied inaction or complicity in allowing provocative speeches in purported religious gatherings by majoritarian elements. Intervention by the highest court has become necessary in the light of some controversial religious leaders getting away lightly after making unacceptable comments, some of them tinged with a genocidal tenor. It is in such a backdrop that the Court has underscored the constitutional values of secularism and fraternity among all religions and social groups.
It was a religious conclave held in Haridwar late last year that set the tone for the ‘hate speech’ case that is being heard now. Even then, the Court had called for corrective measures, leading to another conclave being prevented by local authorities in Roorkee in Uttarakhand. While the intervention may have halted a few meetings at that time, it cannot be said that such transgressions have ended. There has been a disconcerting pattern of Hindu festivals becoming an occasion for the conduct of religious processions that end in clashes caused by provocative behaviour. In the name of dealing with the resulting clashes or disturbances, officials have resorted to demolishing the houses of those allegedly involved in the incidents, without following any process of law. Such developments have given rise to new curbs on minorities, such as unwarranted police probes into the holding of group prayers, and new allegations of purported plots to infiltrate Hindu events. Some television channels have been adding to the bigotry by their manner of functioning. Administrative bias on the one hand and the spread of social prejudice on the other cannot be allowed to vitiate the national mood. Towards that end, the Court must do everything possible to nudge authorities to enforce the law against the propagation of hate.